The water cooler is a mythical place where journalists go to overhear what you’re saying. These sneaks then take the "things you are talking about", and turn them into 1,200-word list-icles on "hot trends" and primers on why Kanye is actually the biggest racist of all, and opinion pieces berating this or that pop starlet for not being as smart as a feature journalist on a deadline.The problem with the water cooler is that there are now so many journalists hanging out around it trying to blend in that it’s impossible for anyone to know who is an authentic person from authentic-land, and who is actually just another hack trying to spin an angle. The water cooler is increasingly becoming an echo chamber, where the same narratives that commit well to the page or to the live VT from outside the home of Nigella Lawson get re-hashed and expanded, as the media starts to believe that the story is being driven by the authentic, swelling voice of the people. Whereas actually it is the authentic voice of other journalists from whom they are sourcing most of their ideas on "what’s really happening".
In reality, most people have few if any opinions on what Jennifer Lawrence recently said about her weight. In reality, no one has ever disgraced themselves by revealing their true thoughts on when they should be required to check their privilege. As we become rats pushing the levers to get the pellets in a clickbaiting hell of our own making, our social media hive mind gives us the impression that everyone is always and everywhere focusing on the dozen or so central topics that emerge from each media conclave. But they’re not. And even if they are, they seldom give a fraction of a shit. In fact, if they played out in actual real life, most of the conversations the media were convinced we were all having around the water cooler in 2013 would have ended up going a lot like this:THE GAME OF THRONES CONVERSATION“Oh my god. Did you see the red wedding in Game Of Thrones last night? Oh my god, right?”“I don’t watch it.”“Why not? It’s unmissable long-form entertainment for the post-box set age.”“Well, I had to get up early the next day for this work thing. I don’t watch a lot of TV to be honest. I don’t know how people find the time.”“But what did you think about the ending of Breaking Bad, though? How messed-up was Walter? What an absolute – ”“Yeah, not really tuned into that either.”“Oh my god, how are you still alive?”THE MILEY CONVERSATION“Oh my god, bro. Did you get a load of the storm Miley was twerking up last night at the VMAs? And I read on Jezebel they’re trying to slutshame her because she’s –”
“Sorry, twerking?”“Yeah, you know twerking-it-out. At the VMAs.”“The MTV Awards Show thing? Dude, I’m 27. I don’t listen to Miley Cyrus, and I haven’t watched MTV Award Shows in a decade. The game has moved on.”“Yeah. I suppose. Fair enough, really.”THE GTA V CONVERSATION“Shit a brick. So according to this report I’ve just seen on BBC News 24, you have to torture some guy with pliers in GTA V. They interviewed people from various anti-violence charities, who all think this is A Really Bad Thing. I really feel like they’ve gone too far now, even if they are just pushing our buttons for publicity’s sake and this conversation is only contributing to that cycle of self-inflaming controversy.”“Yeah, but it’s a game? It’s not reality.”“Okay. Fair point.”THE TWITTER RAPE TROLLS CONVERSATION“Oh my god. Have you heard? People on Twitter have been insulting towards the MP Stella Creasy and some other woman who wants Jane Austen on the tenner?”“I don’t understand. Have these people recently arrived on the internet after a period of prolonged isolation in an Amish community?"“You really don’t understand, bro. They’re being personally insulted. On Twitter. On the internet. The real-life internet.”“But the site’s open? They’ve effectively given their personal mailing address to every scumpocket in the country who can hold a mouse. Did they not understand that some of them might use it?”
“But they’re receiving physical threats. We need to get Twitter to protect everyone.”“There are already laws against threatening people.”“Well I guess there are, yeah. But you have to understand how much people are talking about this, according to various newspaper reports and Sunday supplement columns I’ve read. Something’s gotta be done.”“But it has been done. The law. The law is there. That’s how you deal with this. The internet is full of people. And people are governed by laws.”“Yeah, but the law’s just rules written down. What are Twitter gonna do?”“I. Don’t. Understand."THE KATIE HOPKINS CONVERSATION“Jesus in a jumpsuit. You’ll never believe what Katie Hopkins has just said. Seriously. You just won’t believe it.”“Katie…?”“She was on The Apprentice.”“Which season?”“I think it was four. I don’t know exactly.”“I’m not sure I saw much of four. Was that the one with the lesbian who kept nailing everyone’s balls to the wall?”“I’m not sure. I think it may have been the one after that. I feel like it was when the Margaret woman was still on there.”“Describe her to me.”“She’s sort of blonde and middle-aged.”“Okay. No.”“Ah.”“So. This Katie person. Did she win it?”“The series? No, she didn’t. But according to The Mail she’s just said something really insulting about redheads.”“So someone fairly obscure has said something that could be construed as negative or unsympathetic?”
“Yes. Why aren’t you freaking out?”“…”THE ROBIN THICKE CONVERSATION“Tell me you’ve seen Robin Thicke’s new video.”“No, but I’ve heard the song and it’s bloody awful.”“There’s female nudity.”“In a pop video?”“You don’t get it. This is the greatest threat to women’s liberation in a hundred years. Hands off our bodies, Mr Thicke. Put down the ski mask and stop trying to rape me.”“Sorry, are we talking about the guy from ten years ago who makes terrible student union RnB-lite that shouldn’t be listened to by anyone not in possession of a WKD?”“This is the final straw. I mean, society’s been objectifying women’s bodies since the dawn of time, but you could always sense Thicke was behind it.”“Why are you watching this crap?”“Obviously I’m only watching it for professional purposes. But it’s been brought to my attention by HuffPo that other people are, and obviously they aren’t blessed with the same clear moral sense as me.”“I don’t think you can cure thick people of lousy taste.”“Well, we’ll see what you have to say after I change the lyrics in my feminist parody YouTube response video.”Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynesCollage by Marta Parszeniew, using images via, via, via.A year in Sleepless Nights:Ian Watkins' Crimes Will Force Thousands to Reimagine Their AdolescenceA Beginners' Guide to Morrissey, Penguin Classics' Latest StarFarewell Tommy Robinson, Brave English LionheartGetting to Grips with the Tulisa Cocaine StingThe Weird World of Mail Online CommentersThe Morality of Trying to Be a Man in Order to Sleep with WomenDrug Etiquette for British People in 2013